Al Manar: Hezbollah's Television Propaganda Tool

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Marco Werman: So that was President Obama's message today. Syria and its allies, of course, are putting out a very different message. Take TV channel Al Manar.

[TV announcer, speaking Arabic]

Werman: Al Manar is a satellite TV station associated with Hezbollah, the militant group based in Lebanon that's allied with Iran and whose members have been fighting in Syria on the Syrian government's side. The BBC's John Peate has been watching Al Manar quite a bit. Peate works for BBC Monitoring, which keeps tabs on what broadcasters all over the world are putting on the air. He says Al Manar is routinely critical of the West, the US, and President Obama, especially lately.

John Peate: Generally speaking, Obama is being portrayed by the channel as hesitant and as weak and has been assertive without being sure he has got the rest of the country behind him. And I think the narrative that they are adopting is that President Obama is not listening to what the American people want, who they say are very much against a military strike on Syria.

Werman: Since you've been monitoring Al Manar for the BBC, I'm just curious, generally how you feel it differs from, say, a Western news channel.

Peate: Well, I always think that if you watched it with the sound turned down, you would think it's pretty much like any other international news channel. It has reasonable production values, lots of graphics, it takes the international news agencies, it has video from other TV channels. But the significant thing is when you listen to the narrative of the news reports, they very, very clearly make their stance obvious. For example, they never refer to Israel directly. They always simply call it "al ado," which means the enemy.

Werman: How are the fighters with Hezbollah covered by the Hezbollah channel Al Manar?

Peate: Well, this is very much the interesting thing. You can be watching the channel and you may be watching a documentary about river pollution, for example. Suddenly there will be a cut, and you will see a video of somebody who's described as a Hezbollah martyr giving essentially his farewell speech to camera before he goes off to fight in Syria or Israel.

Werman: Right in the middle of that documentary on water?

Peate: Yes, that's right, as a kind of a, as you might expect a commercial break, you will see these kind of messages being portrayed.

Werman: That's definitely not something we'd see on MSNBC.

Peate: No, I'm guessing it's not.

Werman: You've also been watching Syrian state TV. Presumably they're using the same kind of point of view as Al Manar. Contrast the coverage, though, between the two channels.

Peate: Well, I think the most obvious difference is that the production values on Syrian state TV are very much lower, and so most of the time you will be looking at one or two talking heads in front of a backdrop. Very little international coverage outside Syria, very few video clips. They do things like they conduct street interviews with people talking about rising prices because of, as they would put it, the terrorist threat in the country. But increasingly, I think we've noticed over the last few months, you're getting very, very direct government messages just kind of interwoven with the news. So you'll watch a news broadcast and then suddenly a statement will appear on screen telling people not to believe Western rumors and not to believe kind of rebel propaganda, and then we'll move on to another news item. It has always been a mouthpiece of the Syrian government, but it's increasingly crudely so.

Werman: John Peate of BBC Monitoring, which follows media channels all over the globe.